Monday, February 28, 2011

How I Concentrate Best

Everyone works out their best method of studying.  It's truly an individual thing.  For me?  I prefer a cat on the shoulders.

Gregory the Great on the Burdens of the Pastor

"Some things, even though openly known, ought to be tolerated for a while.  That is, when circumstances afford no suitable opportunity for openly correcting them.  For sores by being cut at the wrong time are the worse inflamed; and, if medical treatments suit not the time, it is clear that they lose their medicinal function.  But, while a fitting time for the correction of subordinates  is being sought, the patience of the church leader is exercised under the very weight of their offenses.

Therefore, it is well said by the psalmist, 'Sinners have built upon my back' (Psalm 128:3; LXX).  For on the back we support burdens; and therefore he complains that sinners had built upon his back, as if to say plainly: those who I am unable to correct I carry as a burden laid upon me."

Gregory the Great (c. AD 540-604)

The above quote was included in CPH's The Lord Will Answer (2004), described as "a daily prayer catechism."  Gregory's words resonate with my own experience, although I have to admit that I struggle taking his advice completely to heart.  I understand well that sometimes an easy solution to a problem does not always present itself, and we must bear with it until one is found.  However, I can see how his advice that although something is "openly known" it should still be "tolerated for a while", might seem as if the pastor is being asked to essentially 'look the other way' for a time.  Yet, do we know if he was referring to obvious sins within the congregation, or to circumstances, though undesirable, might still be tolerated, not as "openly known" sins, but rather as examples of sinful human weakness?  Obviously, we cannot willfully "tolerate" open sins, especially those which are offensive to the church, although we often do this, pastor and people alike many times.  And if he might be referring to human sinfulness, which to some degree he must, might he differentiate between those circumstances based upon the seriousness of the sin? 

P.S.: The psalm verse to which Gregory quotes is quite different in the ESV, which is based on the Hebrew.  It reads (Psalm 129:3): "The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows."  This is quite different than the LXX.  Might this present a problem for the 'proof text' he thus provides regarding his stated argument?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Loehe on Worship and the Liturgy - Part II

"The Christian desires to draw near to God in humble, acceptable worship.  He comes, in company with his fellow Christians, from the conflicts of the past week, bearing on his heart the burdens of many defeats and the joys of few victories.  He knows, that in spite of his best efforts his conduct has not been wholly pleasing to God.  Before him lies now a new week with its thousand hopes and fears; and before he dares enter upon this new week, he must hold communion with God his heavenly Father.  But how shall he approach his God who dwells in unapproachable light?  First of all he must be pardoned of his sins, and be made sensible of such pardon.  For this purpose there is no form better adapted than that given in this Liturgy for Confession and Absolution.  The Confiteor is therefore the first part of a normal Order for public worship.

In the Confiteor the soul has been delivered from the burdens of the past defeats, and is now prepared to take a further step in its approach to God.  The worshiper is now prepared to enter upon the meaning and character of the particular day, which are announced to him in the Introit.  To the peace, experienced in hearing the Absolution, are thus added the joys of the particular festival.....

Beings cleansed from sin, and having entered upon the peculiar joys of the particular festival, the worshiper finds that earth has still other burdens and sorrows which prove a present and future hindrance to holiness.  Life, death and eternity, upon each of which sin has cast its dark shadow, are things well able to make the soul tremble whenever it contemplates them.  To be cleansed from the sins of the past week is no assurance of immunity from failure for the next.  Therefore, the Kyrie, comprehending, in spite of its brevity, a prayer for temporal and eternal deliverance, comes next in the Order."

(Same reference as previous post, pages XII - XIII)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Loehe on Worship and the Liturgy

"In public worship the Church experiences an especial nearness to God; she approaches into the very presence of the Bridegroom, and tastes the blessedness of Heaven even here below.  Public worship is the prettiest flower that can bloom on human stems.  The Order or Liturgy in which this worship is expressed ought therefore to be the image of the inner unity and harmony of the spiritual life - an ecclesiastical aesthetic in concrete form.  In the Church's inner life, as well as in the public expression of her worship,  Word and Sacrament constitute the center.  Like the waves of the sea, breaking and falling upon the rocks, the various forms of the Liturgy must be determined by this central point;  they cannot be arbitrarily chosen, but must be ordered and arranged according to the relation which they bear to Word and Sacrament.  This center determines the steps in the Plan of Salvation, and this in turn determines the Order of public worship.  A spirituality which disregards the fixed order in the Plan of Salvation is inconceivable, so also is its expression impossible in an Order of public worship which does not logically follow these same steps.

The arrangement of the parts in the Order for the Chief Service on the Lord's day may be compared to twin mountains, one of whose heights is a little lower than the other.  The former of these heights, and the lower, is the Sermon; and the other, and the higher, is the Sacrament of the Altar, without the celebration of which no public worship is complete.  In public worship the soul is engaged in an ascent, the goal of which is reached at the Table of the Lord, than which there is nothing higher - nothing diviner on earth, only Heaven remains above.  In the Holy Supper the deepest longings of the soul are satisfied, as the humble worshiper joyfully declares in the Nunc Dimittis."

--Willelm Loehe, Liturgy for Christian Congregations of the Lutheran Faith,Third Edition by J. Deinzer, translated by the Rev. R.C. Longaker - 1902 (Reprinted in 1996 by Repristination Press), pages XI - XII.

Concordia Theology

Some of you probably already discovered this.  According to the archives activity goes back to this past September.  At any rate, if you haven't discovered it, this appears to be a site worth bookmarking (Concordia Theology). Concordia Seminary - St. Louis constructed a very appealing and interactive page in which one can engage the seminary, its faculty and unearth some theological gems along the way.  When I have a bit more time I will explore further.  

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Future of Theological Education

Discussions as of late have again turned to the future of theological eduction.  Gottesdienst Online waded back into the fray with the article "Economics in One Lesson - or - My Plan to Save the Seminaries," a followup, of sorts to a related article in 2010, "Don't Go to the Seminary." At the center of the debate one finds the recurring issue of the "Specific Ministry Program," adopted by the Missouri Synod at its convention in 2007.  The Brothers of John the Steadfast recently supplied yet another article, this one by Issues, Etc's Todd Wilken, entitled "A New Category of Pastor: A Prescient Warning."   A review of the above writings will bring you up to speed with the discussion, at least among those concerned for the current state of theological education.

When the SMP program was initially proposed and approved, I had my own concerns.  Having witnessed the weaknesses in the old DELTO program (Distance Education Leading to Ordination), it seemed that a replacement of the program might lead to much needed improvements.  However, when I heard that the requirement for Greek was waived in this new adventure, my concerns raised considerably.  Was this yet another shortcut to fast track men to the finish line?  Having had a discussion with a man a couple of years ago who wished to take advantage of the program, I remember stressing at the time that this was intended specifically for special situations, such a ethnic ministries, where options were limited and one needed to identify the man from within the local culture itself.  Since that time reports have drifted my way of situations where larger parishes are using the program, it seems, in ways not originally intended.  For the sake of the Synod a full and complete review of the program is in order, along with a detailed report to the next convention.  I hope someone is on that one.

All this brings to the fore the ongoing question of what theological education should look like in our new era.  Having recently entered back into post-graduate theological education myself, I remember weighing the various options and debating with myself which choice offered the best education.  For a long time online programs were tempting.  They offered convenience.  Reputable institutions now offered them.  With access to the internet the promise of an advanced degree of my choice seemed only a keystroke away.  In the end I chose a more residential program that was only 3 1/2 to 4 hours away, an important criteria for me.  Having now experienced the program, I realized again the value of ones education occurring in the context of community, with the dynamic of discussion between student and professor as well as between the students themselves.  Admittedly, with the technology available to us, it can be argued that the same can be reproduced via chat rooms and such.  Perhaps.  Still, something seems missing, not to mention the additional benefit of community worship.  This cannot be reproduced electronically.

I realize that the future of theological education will involve more of a distance component than in previous generations.  Many students come as second career men, some with families and debts in tow.  The unique challenge of ethnic ministries also presents challenges that sometimes are best met by extension-based education.  The article referenced above on Gottesdienst presents some interesting solutions.  However, some of the solutions simply will not occur in this Synod, in this time.  SMP, for good and/or ill, is no doubt here to stay for the indefinite future.  The Association of Theological Schools continues to endorse higher and higher percentages of distance components for accredited institutions.  Class sizes may also remain smaller in future years, forcing the seminaries into creative solutions that may not always appeal to us, as they try to attract new students who simply will not consent to a complete residential program.  Add to this the larger, mega churches, whose influence (disproportionate though it be in respect to the fact that they represent a small minority of parishes overall), will continue to press for changes to suit their own needs.  Where will this all lead?  Who knows? Still, I think we must anticipate where it is going and ask the hard questions.

I remain concerned for the future of theological education.  Hopefully I will have a voice in the decisions that determine changes yet to come.  As one who continues to be academically involved in the process I am prepared to work for better solutions.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Earthquake in Christchurch

By now many who watch the national news are no doubt aware of the devastation at Christchurch, New Zealand.  Pr. Henderson, of Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia (Dr. Marquart' former home) has provided some information and video footage at his site (Glosses From An Old Manse), and I am sure will keep us up to date on any developments as he learns of them.  I have seen nothing at the LCMS website, although I assume something will be forthcoming, especially from Lutheran World Relief.  They are in our prayers.

Monday, February 21, 2011

One Year vs. a Three Year Lectionary

In anticipation of doing some research on the lectionary I stumbled across the issue of the One Year (Historic) Lectionary vs. the Three Year Lectionary.  For the entirety of my 23+ years of ministry I have used the Three Year series.  This stems simply from the fact that the churches which I served had this tradition prior to my arrival and the inserts or pre-printed bulletins they used included this series.  Over the years I have heard repeated promotion and defense of the One Year series, so this is not something new to me.  However, I don't remember hearing it discussed at seminary, at least not in a very in-depth way.  Furthermore, this is not a topic that captured my interest.  Perhaps that is due to the fact that I haven't understood the finer points of the debate. 

My recent interest in the lectionary, by the way, comes from a proposed master's thesis on the Apocalypse (book of Revelation) and the liturgy.  A decision from Nashotah on my proposal will not come until after the first of March when the committee next meets.  What I hope to explore concerns the historic omission of the Apocalypse from the liturgy and lectionary, with its inclusion coming only in the 20th century. Stay tuned.  Maybe I'll have something intelligent to offer down the road.  

But let me get back to the original issue.  One argument I read in defense of the One Year series regards the greater opportunity this series offers the church to learn and commit to memory God's Word.  While an original intent with the Three Year series (coming out of reforms in Vatican II) was to expose the church to a larger selection of scripture, some believe that with changing patterns of attendance, where people no longer consistently and sequentially come Sunday after Sunday, this intent has fallen far short of delivering what it desired.  That may be true.  The exposure of people to the Word is truly 'hit and miss' whatever series you employ.  Perhaps the argument is strengthened for the One Year series in that over an extended period of time the odds of people hearing sermons on a given text are improved, versus the chance they might not hear it again for another three years - or longer.  

Another argument could involve the antiquity of the series.  Obviously the core of the One Year series goes back, it would seem, to Luther and maybe beyond.  Antiquity in the lectionary, as in the liturgy itself, demonstrates a potential connection to the wisdom of the ancient fathers.  It would be interesting to see a paper or thesis which studies this lectionary and whatever patterns can be detected which lend greater credence to its use.  Do we know substantive reasons behind the original selection of the lections?  Questions to ponder.

On the other hand does a good defense or study of the Three Year series exist?  I am not sure if my own research will delve into such areas.  Nevertheless, they are intriguing questions to explore....

A Reminder of Past Suffering

How much could we endure for the sake of Christ?  Can we even begin to imagine years separated from our families, beatings where inhuman torture nearly crushed both mind and body, despair-inducing isolation in dark, dank cells, or the sheer hatred that evil can produce?  As I flipped through the pages of Richard Wurmbrand's Tortured for Christ and Harlan Popov's Tortured for His Faith, books I had read years ago and nearly forgotten, images of unbelievable suffering came back into clear view.  Even though people of my generation came of age in the era of the Iron Curtain and the Cold War, the memories have faded, except for reminders in old films.  Yet men like Richard and Harlan, and countless others both in Russsia and the other satellite states of Eastern Europe, endured unspeakable atrocities in the name of their Savior at a time when the USSR became the grand experiment of the perfect atheistic state.  Of course these sufferings still exist and many attempt to keep them before our eyes lest we lose sight of their sacrifice.  As we pack stadiums and mega-churches with thousands, counting success in the church by size and wealth, and wring our hands when some slight opposition to the faith arises, we should stand humbled in the presence of these suffering saints who found greater honor and glory in the cross than in earthly comfort.  This Thursday we observe the feast day of St. Mathaias, the apostle chosen to replace Judas.  Since outside of the Acts of the Apostles no scriptural evidence exists of his life and work, we are left with secondary sources, many of which differ.   On my calendar, however, the color is red, indicating that the church believes him to have ended his life as a martyr.  The Eastern Church celebrates his feast day on August 14, and now the Catholics, it seems, have since moved it to May 14, so we lack consensus even on the day of his remembrance.  Nevertheless, Matthias is believed to be a saint who gave his life in service to his Lord, suffering well beyond what many of us may ever be called to do.  May his feast day remind us of the suffering church, the church called to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel, the church willing to endure injustice and loss that it might serve the world by giving it life in Christ. 

For more information on current persecution of the Christian Church, go to International Christian Concern or Voice of the Martyrs, as two places to begin. BTW, you can get a copy of Wurmbrand's book at the VOM site.  For a map of the restricted nations, places that actively oppose and persecute the church, go here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Concept of the Fundamental Human Right

Right now my state has taken front stage in the news as thousands of people protest outside our capital.  The issue revolves around our governor's proposal to remove collective bargaining as a right of most unionized state workers, which includes public school teachers.  Given the loud and heated rhetoric on the subject, one is led to believe that this "right" to "collectively bargain" -in this case for health care and other fringes on the state level - is an inherent, fundamental human right.  In doing some brief internet research I discovered that such a belief indeed exists, but it appears to be something connected more with Europe and the UN, than with the US as such.  Obviously, some of the largest corporations in the US lack any provision for collective bargaining: Walmart, IBM, McDonalds, to name a few.  Now given the premise of collective bargaining as a fundamental human right, one would feel compelled to therefore condemn these companies as in grave moral danger.  Which is where this issue impacts this blog.  I do not normally deal with national political issues since my focus is mainly theological in nature.  However, the issue of fundamental human rights brings up questions of ethics, and ethics is a topic of which the church takes interest.  I do not wish here to enter into the political nature of the debate, as such.  The questions at this level concern economics and legislative protocol.  Whether the governor should open up the issue to a public referendum or utilize his own powers independent of public debate is not my concern.  My concern is whether the right of workers to collectively bargain as a union rises to the level of a fundamental human right equal to other rights such as those protecting people from violence, abuse and exploitation.  Does the government have the right itself to impose limits on benefits to its own workers such as other businesses do?  Or is the government morally obligated to provide the right for its workers to participate in determining these benefits?  Notice I said "morally obligated."  Interesting to note is an article written by Roy Adams of McMaster University in Canada in 1999.  His conclusion is that collective bargaining is a fundamental human right and that opposing this is a moral "violation."  I suspect that many protesting outside the Wisconsin capital right now would agree.  Yet I am not so sure.  A Christian, while appreciating his national rights and giving thanks to God for his freedom, is still primarily concerned for his responsibility to his neighbor in love, not his rights.  Considering that many who are protesting feel they are fighting for the rights of others, does such a Christian ethic come to bear?  Furthermore, is the right to bargain with one's employer for one's benefits a "right" for which a Christian will also violate his responsibility to his vocation in order to protect that right?  I ask this as several schools in my state have shut down because their teachers did not show up, and where several state senators left the state to avoid being compelled by the state police to do their job.  Or are these questions the concern at all of people of faith? 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Code of Honor

After a hiatus from my involvement with our local Boy Scout troop, I spent three days in a row reengaging, beginning with an Eagle court of honor and ending with a board of review for yet another Eagle scout.  Watching these emerging young men make the final step in their scouting journey is always encouraging, especially if you have been part of that journey as an adult leader.  However, it should be noted that in scouting the Eagle rank, the highest of the ranks in scouting, does not represent an end in their involvement, but rather a new beginning. It also carries with it a new burden, the burden of being an icon of the highest ideals of scouting.  Both young men were reminded repeatedly of this burden and the charge to now step forward as a leader of the generation to follow them, exhibiting more than ever the ideals of the movement as they have confessed them countless times before in meetings and ceremonies.

As a scout leader I too have joined in these pledges beginning with the familiar "on my honor...."  Yet as a pastor and community leader these words always carry additional weight.  Honor represents a code of conduct that reflects back on all that I represent.  Even though I will never be perfect, I realize that my behavior must always strive to be respectful of what I represent rather than bringing shame to those with whom I am joined by common cause.   I pray I may live up to this in the days my Lord still allows me to serve.

As I wore the uniform and saluted the flag, I felt that familiar sense of national pride and was pleased to carry its honor.  Yet as I reflect back on my church I wonder, do others who represent the fellowship to which we belong feel as much a sense of being honored?  Over the years the initials LCMS have sometimes been uttered with barely veiled contempt, or have been stated as a contradistinction to some larger ideal of Christian virtue the synod seemingly failed to uphold.   Likewise the label "Lutheran."  How often has the phrase been heard "I am a Christian first and a Lutheran second," as if the first is somehow different or less than the second.  As an officer of my synod I know only too well that the denomination with which I am joined lacks perfection.  We are sinners.  Yet the confession we proclaim remains grounded in a scripture independent of my own moral failings or the foibles of those in the membership.  It is still an honor to represent that confession, not a shame, and I strive to be faithful as its representative.

Of course, such an effort does not come easily.  Popular opinion and personal desires rebel against its principles constantly, making association with the fellowship appear at times as almost less than Christian.   "Missouri Synod" carries with it in some circles a sense of narrow-minded isolationism or a kind of religious bigotry that looks down on others and wishes only to exclude those different.  Faithfulness brings boundaries, and boundaries naturally exclude, and exclusion, even if done with respect and concern, still manages to be interpreted as less than loving.  Thus, many distance themselves from the identity with the group, veiling the label, avoiding association, changing practice to be more accommodating to whatever may be desired.

Still, as I spent time among the Anglicans, especially last summer, I found my differences, even in open practice, to offer an opportunity for teaching.  Was it awkward to always step out of the way as everyone else went forward to receive the Eucharist?  Yes.  Yet I was pleasantly surprised when one of the Episcopal clergy, who was in my dorm, later expressed his respect for my actions.  He may not have completely understood or even agreed with what I felt I needed to do, but he respected it.  He respected the honor with which I held my confession.  I also endeavored not to reinforce stereotypes as I upheld my confession.  One can be faithful without being obnoxious or pompous.  That is also an ideal we want to see in our scouts: humility.  You carry a burden of honor, not a personal mantle of praise. 

A battle rages even today in the church over what this code of honor will eventually become.  I fear in a world that tends to weaken commitment and dilute identity that the trend will be to distance rather than confess.  Yet I pray nevertheless that courage will still remain, conditioned by a love for all.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Presbyterians Weigh in on Gay Clergy

It's only a small meeting of about 75 representatives from central and northeastern Wisconsin.  Nevertheless, their meeting today, about an hour drive from my home, will decide to support or oppose homosexuality within Presbyterian leadership.  According to the Associated Press a majority of the 173 Presbyterian regional organizations must ratify or reject the issue.  The Wausau Daily Herald interviewed the local Presbyterian pastor for his reaction, and he indicated that prohibiting people from serving the church based on sexual orientation "runs contrary to Christian theology that no one is perfect."  Come again?  I hope that the paper simply misinterpreted or misunderstood what he said.  If this is accurate, I guess it means two things, neither of which will certainly be acceptable to either side: 1.) homosexuality is a human imperfection, and 2.) homosexuality is an imperfection no different than any other physical or psychological abnormality common to man, but not prohibitive to competent functioning.  Oh, and don't forget, that is part of "Christian theology."  I'm lost.....

Friday, February 11, 2011

Theology on Ground Level

Going back to graduate school placed me into the heady invigorating world of academic theological deliberations.  Keeping abreast of ongoing debates among scholars conservative and liberal alike allows me the chance to continually sharpen those reemerging skills.  However, as I was reminded yesterday in the basement of my church with six students at the adult instruction class, theology must ultimately address issues affecting the real-time lives of God's people.  Last night we discussed the age-old question of sin and the Fall in Eden and the ancient tactics of the evil one.  Parish work affords ample opportunity to wrestle with the most difficult theological dilemmas, as sin continually poses challenges to the application of law and gospel in the most fundamental way.

In my corner of the world two of the challenges that most frequently complicate the life of the parish involve issues impacting morality (e.g. cohabitation) and fellowship (e.g. close communion).  While the answers often seem clear and obvious to me as a pastor, the solutions are another story.  Parish-level theology is complicated in large part because of the fellowship in which it must be practiced.   The law's hammer crushes the pride of sin and checks our selfish desire to be our own god, but its impact also sends unintended reverberations throughout family units in ways that too often obscure the real message.  Nothing is more personal than ones family, and when issues cause people to break their fellowship in a church where family ties go deep, the fallout sends waves of hurt into many lives, including the pastor.  How can we refuse to commune someone's daughter whose parents know to be a 'good Christian girl'?  How dare we judge the private decisions of people who are faced with economic challenges that prohibit the luxury of independent living!  Sure, there is the 'letter of the law,' but what about the exceptions every law is afforded for the sake of real people with messy, complicated lives?  Are we heartless?

If you have ministered at this level you know only too well the spirit of these quandaries.  As I often remind my people, there is a reason the hymnal has a section entitled "The Church Militant."  Satan has constructed his chapel next to our cathedral and will not be closing any time soon.  As he cracked the door with his first question of doubt and sowed the seeds that bore the fruit of rebellion against the very Word of God, so this well-worn pattern is employed with tireless application day in and day out.  Pastors remain at the heart of a battle and must never relax so long that they forget their own vulnerabilities and inherent weaknesses.

With that in mind I realize I must retire for a time to God's Word and to prayer.  Every day the evil one works to keep me from it, and I confess has secured a good record of victory on too many days.  May the Lord bless you in this battle as you minister in the kingdom.  Theology on ground level is tough work.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Allowing Murray Equal Time

Since Dr. Becker has resurrected his swipe at Murray's book, it seemed only proper that somewhere Dr. Murray be given equal time in response.  Unfortunately when someone regularly blogs, those to whom they refer are not afforded the opportunity for rebuttal.  The venue may or may not be widely read, and thus the subject of a post may not even know he or she became the center of a discussion.  For those who may have picked up on Becker's argument and would like to hear the "other side" of the issue, may I propose a good response from Murray's own pen?  If you are so inclined I would suggest reading his paper "The Third Use of the Law: The Author Responds to His Critics," which was published in CTQ, vol. 72, 2008.  Dr. Murray does a masterful job at examining not just the concerns of his critics, but the reason why some are so negatively inclined toward the subject of the third use of the law in the first place.  One would think, from Becker's scathing review of Murray's book, Law, Life, and the Living God (CPH, 2002), that the reactions to this work are all negative.  However, as happens with any book, the reviews were predictably mixed, representing polar opposites in some cases.  Obviously this subject still generates heat, and when it comes to the interpretation of history, especially the history of the LCMS in the darker days of the mid-70's, many have a horse in the race.  To gain a better understanding of this aspect of the debate I would recommend Dr. Lawrence Rast's brief article "The Third Use of the Law: Keeping Up to Date with an Old Issue" (CTQ, vol. 69, 2005). 

O.k., I feel better now.  But does anyone really care?  :)

Becker's Not So Thinly Veiled Disdain of Scaer and Murray

Dr. Matthew Becker reveals his not so thinly veiled disdain for Missouri's right in his latest post defending the work and theology of Werner Elert.  You can read his post and judge for yourself, but his lack of any scholarly respect for Dr. David Scaer of CTS-Ft. Wayne and Dr. Scott Murray, pastor and synodical vice president is quite transparent.  For example, he refers to Murray's book on the law, which was based, I think, on his doctoral work, as a "shallow and mistaken study." Dr. Lawrence Rast provides a more positive review in a 2005 CTQ article. He then cuts them down again at the end of his article by noting two other men as "better scholars."  Dr. David Scaer remains one of Missouri's greatest scholars, and I think that Becker could have acknowledged his theological acumen with a bit more graciousness. 

His admiration for Missouri's former left and current theologians of the ELCA seems far greater than anything he would offer for those in Missouri, at least those who seem to him to be on the right of the spectrum.  I continue to wonder, given his disdain of these scholars and the obvious direction the Synod is taking under President Harrison, why he doesn't feel compelled to move over to a denomination more sympathetic to his convictions.  Does he hold out hope that the denomination will one day officially embrace his views on women's ordination and evolution?  Given that close communion itself has been memorialized and discussed at conventions for the last 41 years without moving away from the original point, I suspect his hopes for change in these other spheres, if they are there, are not encouraging.  So does he remain simply to complain and cut down from the side and remain a kind of 'thorn' in Missouri's side?  I don't know.  Perhaps future posts might reveal his full vision as a theologian within Missouri.

Postscript:  I find it interesting that the theologian Becker chose to 'defend' also wrote a significant piece of scholarship, published by CPH in 1966, which has been used for years as a foundation of the close communion practice in Missouri.  The book is Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries.  I wonder what Dr. Becker thinks of this work since I would imagine that his fellowship preferences are probably much broader than Missouri's.

Also, I have to compliment Dr. Becker for his recent willingness to assist a vacant parish in Michigan City, Indiana as a supply pastor.  The parish lost its young pastor to an unexpected and sudden death.  Immanuel Lutheran Church's website with Becker can be found here.  Despite my differences with Dr. Becker's theology, I always respect an ordained academic who is willing to serve the church as a pastor as well as a scholar. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bishop Bo Giertz (1905-1998)

In my unintended series on significant theologians of the 20th century without earned doctorates, yet another name must be added: Bo Giertz.  As far as I can determine, this great theologian of Sweden who became a very prolific and popular writer while also attaining great respect as a scholar, never earned an actual doctoral degree.  Yet, as happens so often, he is the subject of dissertations himself and remains an inspiration for generations of theologians and pastors.

Many have provided more than adequate summaries of this great man's life, a feat I will not attempt to reproduce here.  A nice biographical sketch can be found at the Lutheran Student Fellowship of Pittsburgh, among other places. Basically, Giertz was a man of the church.  His active career can be divided into two parts: his time as a parish pastor in Torpa, Sweden (1938-1949), and his time as a bishop in the Church of Sweden in Gothenburg (1949-1970).  His first few years in the ministry (1934-1938) appear to have been spent as an assistant to the bishop with special responsibilities for work with the youth.  The first eleven years as a parish pastor produced an incredible output of writing, which included what is most certainly his most famous work, the Hammer of God, a novel written in 1941.  This was the first work of Giertz to enter my own library, a book I purchased before becoming a pastor, yet did not finish reading until well into my ministry.  The second work to enter my library was a little booklet entitled "Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening," published in 1950.  It is actually part of the pastoral letter Giertz wrote upon taking up his position as bishop.  My copy came by way of the library of the Rev. W. H. Krieger, former pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Traverse City, where I once served as senior pastor years after him.  Krieger, also a past president of the Michigan District and vice president of Synod, was one of the early proponents of liturgical renewal in Synod, which he modeled at Trinity and is still evident today.

A short sample from that booklet shows us Giertz's deep appreciation for the ancient liturgical forms, but always as tools useful in the present as well:

Liturgy "speaks wisdom among those who are full grown."  It uses all the richness of the Scriptures, all the meaningful symbols and prefigurements of Christ in the Old Testament.  It prays the prayers of the Psalter anew, it listens to the prophesies and finds in them the deepest mysteries of the gospel.  It loves exactly those hidden things that only slowly unfold themselves and that constantly give the mind something new to ponder.  Just because the liturgy constantly turns back to the same holy forms, it dares to make use of the hidden wisdom of the Scriptures.  Therefore it also loves that music which beneath an obvious simplicity hides unfathomable depths of humble worship and joyful lodging.  It loves to lift its soul to God in the haunting music of the Kyrie or the reverent joy of the Preface.  In all this it is very unlike the mood of awakening....

The good bishop understood the strength and invaluable treasure we have in the liturgy, and speaks well to our day when the ancient forms are frequently discarded and dispensed in exchange for what are seen as more effective and useful forms.  Note his wise words next to those who have fallen in love with the contemporary fixation with change, yet unintentionally fall into the very formalism they despise:

There can be no normal church life without liturgy.  Sacraments need form, the order of worship must have some definite pattern.  It is possible to live for a short time on improvisations and on forms that are constantly changing and being made over.  One may use only free prayers and yet create a new ritual for every worship situation.  But the possibilities are soon exhausted.  One will have to repeat, and with that the making of rituals is in full swing.  In circles where people seek to live without any forms, new forms are nevertheless constantly taking shape.  Favorite songs are used again and again with monotonous regularity, certain prayer expressions are constantly repeated, traditions take form and traditional yearly ceremonies are observed.  But it would not be wrong to say that the new forms that grow up in this way are usually less attractive and more profane than the ancient liturgy.  They contain less of God's Word, they pray and speak without Scriptural direction, they are not so much concerned about expressing the whole content of Scriptures, but are satisfied with one thing or another that seems to be especially attractive or popular.  The new liturgy that grows in this manner is poorer, less Biblical, and less nourishing to the soul than the discarded ancient order.

Bishop Gietz is an old voice needed in our new day more now than ever.

And this is all the more amazing considering that this great champion for the truth came from a position of atheism as his starting point.  He would also later become a voice in opposition to the liberalizing trends in his own church body, such as the ordination of women which he opposed.  Even in retirement he did not stop working and writing, and remains for all of us an example of a true churchman.

The only other work of Giertz presently in my library is the more recently translated devotional To Live With Christ.  It was published by Concordia Publishing House in 2008, and is now also available in Kindle and ePub editions, for those able to utilize it in this way.  I have used it and highly recommend it.  As more of his work is translated and published I hope to add these to my library in time as well.

May his work continue to inspire and instruct the church today.  We need his wisdom.

[For those desiring a more developed bibliography for further reading and study of Giertz, go to this site.]

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Anyone Know What Happened to These Professors?

I was recently looking through one of the academic catalogs from Concordia Theological Seminary-Ft. Wayne and wondered what happened to a couple of professors who left the seminary in the early to mid-2000's.  Neither is listed on the clergy roster of Synod, and in doing a Google search it seems that little is available there also.  The professors both taught OT exegesis.  They are Chad Bird and Douglas McC. L. Judisch.  Bird, it appears has done some adjunct work for Clarendon College as recently as last spring, but is not listed among their faculty for this year.  He has also been involved in the doctoral program at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, OH since 2003, according to an online CV.  Dr. Judisch, who was my OT prof at Ft. Wayne also shows up on the net, but only in reference to past works he has authored.  Both of these men contributed well-received books and writings over the years.  Pr. Bird (I think he is still a pastor?) also wrote at least one of the hymns in the Lutheran Service Book.  I'm simply curious where they are at now and what they might be doing in the church-at-large.  Does anyone know?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Martin Franzmann

As we sang his now classic hymn in church this morning, "Thy Strong Word," I was reminded of another great theologian of the 20th century; a theologian who also did not appear to have secured an earned doctorate in his lifetime.  Martin Franzmann (1907-1976) remains influential even to this day not only through his hymnody, but also through his prolific writing.  Recently I had the occasion to use his commentary on Romans for one of my graduate papers, a paperback I bought several years ago at a used book store in Madison (during another graduate class), which is now falling apart from use and age.  While in college his book The Word of the Lord Grows was our standard text for the introduction to the New Testament.  Then later his influence continued as I used the Concordia Self-Study Bible and the Concordia Self-Study Commentary in my ongoing preparation for Bible studies and sermons, especially in my earlier ministry.   His writing encompasses many more works that I confess to having not yet read, all of which I suspect are still accessible and much used by pastors and laypeople alike.

Franzmann was a highly gifted man who served his church not only in teaching and scholarship, but in the administration of the Synod itself, as well representing the church abroad at conferences.  He came of age during the Great Depression and established himself as a scholar in the post-war years of the later 40's, eventually becoming a respected professor of New Testament exegesis at Concordia Seminary- St. Louis, as well as the head of the Department of Exegetical Theology.  Richard Brinkley, in his biographical work Thy Strong Word (1993), notes that Franzmann had been working on an advanced degree since the 1930's when he was a student at the University of Chicago.  He attended this institution again in the 40's and 50's where he worked on his Ph.D, a degree he never completed. In 1956, the same year he became head of the exegetical department, Concordia Theological Seminary-Springfield awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity "for his outstanding academic contributions and achievements as well as for his service and dedication to Lutheranism and the work of the Lutheran Church" (24). 

As a theologian his greatest contribution may well have been his outspoken resistance to the growing popularity of higher-criticism, although one must never underestimate the impact of his more popular works that influenced countless members of the church.  Brinkley notes that as a professor he was highly regarded by his students.  "First of all, they were impressed by his knowledge of the Greek New Testament.  He knew large portions of it by heart and could recite them from memory without having to consult a Greek New Testament" (29).  One wonders how many with earned doctorates from well-respected institutions would still be hard pressed to keep up with this brilliant mind.

I was only about halfway through high school when Dr. Franzmann died.  Yet, within about three years of his death I would be sitting at Concordia-St. Paul with his New Testament introduction, learning at his feet even though he was no longer among us.  However, I feel a certain connection to him in another way. According to Brinkley, Franzmann was "a lifelong Anglophile," a weakness I also share.  His attraction to things English led him eventually to leave the St. Louis seminary in 1969 and move to Cambridge.  There he taught at the Westfield House until health concerns caused him to turn over these duties to his son.  He did return to St. Louis in the spring of 1975 in an attempt to help heal the divisions which now so troubled the beloved Synod, especially since the walkout in 1974.  His efforts, although much appreciated, helped to further break his once vital health, and not long after his return to England he passed away quietly in his sleep.

Franzmann, like Marquart mentioned in the previous post, was a working theologian with a brilliant mind who was too busy, it would seem, to slow down long enough to devote himself to the time necessary for an advanced doctorate.  Regarding Marquart I once heard that Dr. Preus had to push him to go back to school and secure some kind of advanced degree.  At the time of his appointment, and for some time after, he had only a Bachelor of Divinity.  He later secured a master's degree from Canada, I think, in the field of scientific philosophy, which suited his interests in apologetics.

We remain blessed by these men of great talent and devotion to the church.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Theologians Without Doctorates

Today we assume that serious, academically-minded theologians earn a doctorate. In fact, how can someone ultimately be respected without one?  However, many famous teachers of theology in the past never made it that far, and still they commanded great respect among their peers and even secured respected teaching posts in world class universities. Recently I discovered that three great theologians of the 20th century taught and wrote extensively and yet the only doctorate they had came in the form of an honorary one.  The three men are: Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, and C.S.Lewis.  Now one may take issue with the last name in the list since he did not make a career in theology, but rather in teaching literature.  Nevertheless, it cannot be argued that his writings stand among the great 'classics' of apologetics. (Another name one might also add to the list could include the well-known biblical scholar F.F.Bruce.)

It seems ironic that innumerable doctoral dissertations have been written about these men who never underwent the rigor of this ritual themselves (e.g.: Dr. Steve Mueller of Concordia -Irvine did his dissertation on C.S.Lewis at the University of Durham.)  I greatly respect those who pursue doctoral studies and in no way wish to diminish their accomplishments.  That said, I also count among the teachers who have most influenced me or with whom I have great respect and admiration, men who never aspired to that level.  One of those theologians would be Kurt Marquart, who taught for many years at my alma mater Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne.  A few years before his death he was awarded an honorary doctorate; I believe from Concordia-Wisconsin.  It was long overdue.  Still, his theological brilliance was not enhanced by the honorary degree.  He had already proved himself long before. 

As I round the corner in completing my Master of Sacred Theology degree (two more classes to go!), I need to remind myself that as Luther taught us, it is oratio, meditatio and tentatio that make a theologian (literally, prayer, meditation, and trials- See the CTQ article by John W. Kleinig for more.)  Theology does not flower in the vacuum of a sterile classroom environment, but rather in the midst of the church itself.  We may learn theology in a classroom, but that knowledge must serve the church if it is worth our attention and time.  I suspect that having spent over two decades in the pastoral ministry theology will always be linked to the church for me, even if I should be given the opportunity to teach it in a more formal, academic environment.

I didn't plan to begin this post with one topic and transition to the other.  Oh, well, writing does not always follow a perfectly straight line....

Giving to Missions

The other night a young graduate of one of the Concordias came to speak at my church.  He was recently contracted to work with a Lutheran pastor in Japan and hoped to find some financial support from a couple of our groups.  We gladly promised him support.  I am pleased that my congregation remains supportive of missions.  When the budget was passed last month the elder in charge of the stewardship board, upon seeing that we had a budge much under the previous year due to paying off our building loan, suggested we raise our overall giving to missions.  It passed without resistance at $22,000 (which includes support for all synodical services at district and national.)  All glory be to God alone!

Given this I was disappointed when I recently read how far down the list the LCMS is with regard to mission giving, especially overseas missions.  The February 2011 issue of Christianity Today reported that the Missouri Synod contributed 1 cent for every dollar it raises.  The ELCA, Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal Church and Disciples of Christ landed in the same basement category.  The Southern Baptists and United Methodists rose slightly higher with 2 cents on every dollar.  The Seventh-day Adventists, Wesleyan Church and Presbyterian Church in America placed next with 4 cents on the dollar.  Then came the Church of the Nazarene and General Association of General Baptists with 6 cents.  Finally, the largest giver to overseas missions goes to the Christian and Missionary Alliance. 

I realize that the Synod is in the process of restructuring and reevaluating how it does business.  Nevertheless, I wonder: why have we been unable to raise our mission commitment higher?  Many years ago we ceased any meaningful support of our universities and seminaries, leaving them to fend for themselves financially.  The national trend in giving also does not look promising.  Again CT reported that church member giving is decreasing in this recent recession as a percentage of income.  At our recent Circuit Counselor meeting we discussed stewardship and I realized that I really do not have a deliberate and structured approach to teaching my people the biblical principals in this area.  Perhaps it is high time I start in my own church and engage them in true stewardship education.  Stay tuned....